Metropolis

Metropolis

*****

Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

Editor's note: This is a review of the restored and reconstructed Metropolis (including 25 minutes of footage previously thought lost).

Since the dawn of film-making, directors have complained about producers hacking their films to pieces, but legendary German director Fritz Lang might have had more to complain about than most. The film - concerning a divided city in which a wealthy man falls for a revolutionary from its forbidden subterranean depths, who predicts a saviour is coming to reunite society - has been revered as his masterpiece since its release in 1927. But Lang's Metropolis had, in fact, had an entire quarter of footage cut by Paramount for the US release.

Copy picture

It is this and other various 'reduced' versions that, until now, have informed modern film-goer's perception of the film through re-runs and DVD releases. The excised footage remained lost, seemingly forever. However, in 2008, several dusty reels of the film were found in a small Buenos Aires museum, allowing a new 'restored' and extended version to be put together by archivists at the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung in Wiesbaden, Germany.

The new restored version premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival at the appropriately imposing location of the Brandenburg Gate on February 12, 2010 before going on tour ahead of its planned DVD release later this year. The film now runs some 30 minutes longer than the existing cut and, it is claimed, almost duplicates the experience German cinemagoers would have had back in 1927.

The restored footage adds much more to the experience that is Metropolis, though sadly the new scenes are not exactly a seamless fit - they appear grainier and there are lines over the frame, despite the efforts of the restoration team. A few moments of footage appear to have been either too damaged to restore or remain lost (title cards indicate these scenes during the film). Still, these minor quibbles pale into comparison with the sense of achievement that the footage was found and could be made presentable.

Contained in that new 30 minutes are fresh subplots which flesh out characters who seemed only to be supporting players in the original cuts, and events in the narrative structure can now be seen in their proper context once alongside the new scenes. A whole subplot involving the 'Thin Man' spy and his pursuit of escaped worker Georgy is now restored, for example. A rescue scene in the underworld towards the end now seems longer and much more dramatic. There are also smaller character moments, reaction shots, dream sequences, more character backstories. None of it feels that it somehow is making the experience of Metropolis more flabby.

As for the picture quality, forgiving the restored footage, Metropolis looks amazing. The film had already been digitally restored in 2001 and the HD presentation of the restored cut is superb, the sweeping vistas of Lang's massive city-state with its monumental skyscrapers and art-deco architecture appear sharper than ever. The visual experience is perfectly accompanied by a crisp new orchestra recording of the Gottfried Huppetz score, that perfectly matches the movements on screen.

New footage or not, Metropolis remains a powerful and affecting science-fiction film because it is still has relevance - it is a frightening reflection of our society in an all-too-possible distant future, a future where the elite who live in luxury high above the Earth ignore - at their peril - those toiling below.

Reviewed on: 05 Jul 2010
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In a future city strictly divided into rulers and ruled, a rich young man falls in love with a revolutionary from the forbidden depths. Reconstructed and restored and back on re-release this autumn.
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Read more Metropolis reviews:

Jennie Kermode *****

Director: Fritz Lang

Writer: Thea von Harbou, based on her own book.

Starring: Brigitte Helm, Gustav Fröhlich, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Alfred Abel, Heinrich George

Year: 1927

Runtime: 153 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Germany

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